Sang Nila Utama



In the Sejarah Melayu (SM; Malay Annals), Sang (Nila) Utama is a reference to a 13th-century Palembang prince from the Srivijaya ruling house. His link to the pre-1819 history of Singapore is his founding of a settlement called Singapura on the island Temasek sometime in 1299 (r. 1299–1347).1 The sighting of a lion by Sang Utama is often told to explain the renaming of Temasek to Singapura (“City of the Sea Lion” in Sanskrit).2 On founding Singapura, Sang Utama assumed the title of Sri Tri Buana (“Lord of Three Worlds” in Sanskrit).3 Sang Utama’s descendants ruled Singapore until the reign of Iskandar Shah, the fifth ruler of Singapore, who was driven out by the Majapahit (Javanese) forces and later founded the kingdom of Malacca. Thus the lineage of Malacca kings could be traced to Sang Nila Utama and all the way to the powerful Srivijaya.4

Singapore/Malacca kings as progeny of Sang Utama
While the relation between Sang Utama and Singapore/Malacca kings in SM is shrouded in myth,5 scholars have tried to place this connection within the history of classical empires in the Indo-Malayan Archipelago according to Javanese, Chinese, Portuguese and Siamese sources.6 By the end of 13th century, the Buddhist Malay7 kingdom of Srivijaya, with capitals in Palembang and Jambi8 and which had been dominant since the seventh century,9 was in decline. The countdown to its last days began when Srivijaya had to repel invasions by the Javanese (Hindu)10 and the Siamese in Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula respectively.11 The Javanese conquest of Srivijaya in Sumatra was completed in 1286 and a new Javanese king was installed.12 Around the same time, the Siamese focused their assault on the Malay Peninsula and had similar success. The Siamese occupation of the whole of the peninsula at the start of 14th century effectively wiped out all traces of Srivijaya influence in the Malay Archipelago.13

The earliest European sources on precolonial Singapore were by the Portuguese,14 who captured Malacca in 1511. According to Afonso de Albuquerque and Tomé Pires, the founder of Malacca was Parameswara (“Supreme Lord” in Sanskrit),15 a Palembang chief of Srivijaya ancestry.16 Importantly, they also recorded that Parameswara ruled Singapore for five years before he had to flee from hostile Siamese forces in 1388/89.17 Other Portuguese authorities provide a different account of the ancestry of Parameswara, saying he was Javanese (Majapahit),18 but all of them agree that Parameswara was the last ruler of Singapore and founder of Malacca. They also agree that the forces that drove Parameswara from Singapore were Siamese, except for Diogo de Couto, who pinned the aggressor as Javanese.19

The absence of the important figure, Parameswara, in the SM is “incredible”,20 despite his prominence in the classical records. British scholars Richard Olaf Winstedt and W. Linehan believe that the omission in the SM was a conscious one. Winstedt was convinced that Parameswara is identical with Iskandar Shah of the SM and that Parameswara adopted the Muslim name Iskandar when he converted to Islam in his later life.21 In leaving out Parameswara from the SM, the writer of the chronicles could have intended to discard the Hindu pre-Muslim roots of the founder of Malacca.22

Another possible motive for snubbing Parameswara in the SM was to conceal his shady reputation as a murderous usurper. According to the Portuguese, Parameswara was a nobleman from Palembang who fled from the chaos in his state and accepted the asylum offered by the chief of Singapore. Instead of showing gratitude, Parameswara killed his benefactor and, with the help of his followers and the Orang Laut (sea gypsies), captured power. Five years later, the relatives of the murdered chief took revenge and drove Parameswara out of Singapore. Linehan argued that an ancestry linked to a “pirate prince” who murdered his host would have been a stain on the lineage of the Malacca kings. Thus the Parameswara past was left out and the record altered to make it appear that Iskandar Shah, the last ruler of Singapore and founder of Malacca, was a descendant of the Singapore royal lineage that could be traced to Sri Tri Buana.23

Sri Tri Buana as a legend based on Parameswara
The migration of Parameswara from Palembang to Singapore echoes the opening chapter of Singapore by the mythical Sri Tri Buana such that these two identities have been argued to be the same. If they were, the stories of Singapore kings would have been invented by the compiler of the SM to cover up the period of inglorious Palembang history and shore up Paremeswara’s reputation.24 Regardless of the myths, old sources have shown that the settlement of Temasek predates Parameswara’s adventure in the Malay Peninsula, though it was never more than a small outpost that was shadowed by pirates.25



Author

Nor Afidah Abd Rahman



References
1. Linehan, W. (1947, December). The kings of 14th century Singapore. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 20(2)(142), 117, 120. Retrieved from JSTOR; The kings of Singapore. (1948, February 26). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
2. Linehan, W. (1947, December). The kings of 14th century Singapore. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 20(2)(142), 118. Retrieved from JSTOR; Munoz, P. M. (2006). Early kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 185. (Call no.: RSEA 959.801 MUN)
3. Linehan, W. (1948). Sang Nila Utama changed his title. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Miksic, J. N. (2013). Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea, 13001800. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 148. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 MIK -[HIS])
4. Linehan, W. (1947, December). The kings of 14th century Singapore. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 20(2)(142), 117–120. Retrieved from JSTOR.
5. Linehan, W. (1947, December). The kings of 14th century Singapore. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 20(2)(142), 118. Retrieved from JSTOR; Hussain Othman. (2005, December 8–9). The characteristics of the Malay historiography. In SEASREO 10th anniversary conference, p. 8. Retrieved 2016, April 2 from Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia website: http://eprints.uthm.edu.my/1960/1/THE_CHARACTERISTICS_OF_THE_MALAY_HUSSAIN_OTHMAN_2005.pdf
6. Munoz, P. M. (2006). Early kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 113–189. (Call no.: RSEA 959.801 MUN); Windstedt, W. (2002). Malay founder of medieval Malacca. In V. I. Braginskii(Ed.), Classical civilizations of South-East Asia: An anthology of articles published in the bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. London; New York: RoutledgeCurzon, p. 105. (Call no.: RSEA 959 CLA)
7. Munoz, P. M. (2006). Early kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 116. (Call no.: RSEA 959.801 MUN)
8. Munoz, P. M. (2006). Early kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 167. (Call no.: RSEA 959.801 MUN)
9. Munoz, P. M. (2006). Early kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 166. (Call no.: RSEA 959.801 MUN)
10. Munoz, P. M. (2006). Early kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 133–134. (Call no.: RSEA 959.801 MUN)
11. Munoz, P. M. (2006). Early kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 171–172. (Call no.: RSEA 959.801 MUN)
12. Munoz, P. M. (2006). Early kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 172. (Call no.: RSEA 959.801 MUN)
13. Munoz, P. M. (2006). Early kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 175. (Call no.: RSEA 959.801 MUN)
14. Lim, T. S. (2012). 14th century Singapore: The Temasek paradigm [Thesis], p. 6. Retrieved 2016, March, from Scholarbank@NUS website: http://scholarbank.nus.edu.sg/handle/10635/33342
15. Miksic, J. N. (2013). Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea, 13001800. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 167. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 MIK-[HIS])
16. Winstedt, W. (2002). Malay founder of medieval Malacca. In V. I. Braginskii (Ed.), Classical civilizations of South-East Asia: An anthology of articles published in the bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. London; New York: RoutledgeCurzon, p. 106. (Call no.: RSEA 959 CLA)
17. Linehan, W. (1947, December). The kings of 14th century Singapore. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 20(2)(142), 122, 125. Retrieved from JSTOR.
18. Linehan, W. (1947, December). The kings of 14th century Singapore. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 20(2)(142), 122–123. Retrieved from JSTOR; Winstedt, W. (2002). Malay founder of medieval Malacca. In V. I. Braginskii (Ed.), Classical civilizations of South-East Asia: An anthology of articles published in the bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. London; New York: RoutledgeCurzon, p. 107. (Call no.: RSEA 959 CLA)
19. Linehan, W. (1947, December). The kings of 14th century Singapore. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 20(2)(142), 124. Retrieved from JSTOR.
20. Winstedt, W. (2002). Malay founder of medieval Malacca. In V. I. Braginskii (Ed.), Classical civilizations of South-East Asia: An anthology of articles published in the bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. London; New York: RoutledgeCurzon, p. 106. (Call no.: RSEA 959 CLA)
21. Winstedt, W. (2002). Malay founder of medieval Malacca. In V. I. Braginskii (Ed.), Classical civilizations of South-East Asia: An anthology of articles published in the bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. London; New York: RoutledgeCurzon, pp. 105–106. (Call no.: RSEA 959 CLA)
22. WInstedt, W. (2002). Malay founder of medieval Malacca. In V. I. Braginskii (Ed.), Classical civilizations of South-East Asia: An anthology of articles published in the bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. London; New York: RoutledgeCurzon, p. 106. (Call no.: RSEA 959 CLA)
23. Linehan, W. (1947, December). The kings of 14th century Singapore. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 20(2)(142), 122, 124–125. Retrieved from JSTOR.
24. Turnbull, C. M. (2009). A history of modern Singapore, 1819–2005. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR -[HIS])
25. Munoz, P. M. (2006). Early kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula, p. 187. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 187. (Call no.: RSEA 959.801 MUN)



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

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Singapore--History
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